Sigiriya Lions Rock

Sigiriya Lions Rock

sigiriya lions rock

One of Asia’s major archaeological sites, Sigiriya presents a unique concentration of fifth-century urban planning, architecture, gardening, engineering, hydraulic technology and art. Centered on a massive rock rising 200 meters above the surrounding plain, Sigiriya s location is one of considerable natural beauty and historical interest. An area of ancient settlement lying between the historic capitals of Anuradhapura and Polonnaruva, the Sigiriya plain still retains much of its forest cover, and many of its present village settlements and man-made village reservoirs date back to the first millennium B.C. In its present form, Sigiriya itself is essentially a walled-and-moated royal capital of the fifth century A.D., with a palace complex on top of the rock, elaborate pleasure gardens, extensive moats and ramparts, and the well-known paintings on the western face of the rock.

The history of Sigiriya, however, extends from prehistoric times to the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. The earliest evidence of human habitation is in the Aligala rock-shelter which lies to the east of the Sigiriya rock. This is a major prehistoric site of the mesolithic period, with an occupational sequence starting nearly five thousand years ago and extending up to early historic times. The historical period at Sigiriya begins about the third century B.C., with the establishment of a Buddhist monastic settlement on the rock-strewn western and northern slopes of the hill around the rock. As in other similar sites of this period, partially man¬made rock-shelters or ‘caves’, with deeply-incised protective grooves or drip¬ledges, were created in the bases of several large boulders. There are altogether 30 such shelters, many of them dated by the donatory inscriptions carved in the rock face near their drip-ledges to a period between the third century B.C., and the first century A.D. The inscriptions record the granting of these caves to the Buddhist monastic order to be used as residences.

Sigiriya comes dramatically, if tragically, into the political history of Sri Lanka in the last quarter of the fifth century during the reign of King Dhatusena I (459-477 A.D.), who ruled from the ancient capital at Anuradhapura. A palace coup by Prince Kasyapa, the King’s son by a non-royal consort, and Migara, the king’s nephew and army commander, led ultimately to the seizure of the throne and the subsequent execution of Dhatusena. Kasyapa, much reviled for his patricide, established a new capital at Sigiriya, while the crown prince, his half-brother Moggallana, went into exile in India. Kasyapa 1 (477-495 A.D.) and his master-builders gave the site its present name, ‘Simha-girl’ or ‘Lion-Mountain’, and were responsible for most of the structures and the complex plan that we see today. This brief Kasyapan phase was the golden age of Sigiriya.

The post-Kasyapan phases, when Sigiriya was turned back into a Buddhist monastery, seem to have lasted until the thirteenth or fourteenth century. Sigiriya then disappears for a time from the history of Sri Lanka until, in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, it appears again as a distant outpost and military center of the Kingdom of Kandy. In the mid-nineteenth century antiquarians begin to take an interest in the site, followed some decades later by archaeologists, who have now been working there for nearly 100 years, since the 1890s. The Cultural Triangle project began its work at Sigiriya in 1982 and has focused attention not only on the best-known and most striking aspects of Sigiriya: the royal complex of rock, palace, gardens and fortifications of the ‘western precinct’, but also on the entire city and its rural hinterland.

Sigiriya Frescoes

sirigiya frescoes paintings


The Sigiriya complex’s most prominent feature is the famous fifth-century paintings, which can be found in a depression at the rock face 100m above the ground. They can be reached today via a modern spiral staircase. These fragmentary remnants are of an enormous backdrop of paintings that once ran across the rock’s western face. The painted band appears to have reached the north-eastern corner, covering an area of nearly 140m long by 40m high at its largest. John Still noted that the entire hill’s face appeared to have been a huge picture Gallery, the largest in the world possibly. (Still 1907 I5)

The Mirror Wall

sigiriya mirror wall

The Mirror Wall dates back to the fifth century, and is now well preserved in its original form. The wall was built from the rock base using brick masonry. It has a highly polished plaster finish which is why it’s called the Mirror Wall. The wall surrounds a Gallery or walk paved with polished marble slabs. In a depression above the gallery, you will find the famous Sigiriya paintings. The Sigiriya Graffiti is found on the inner surface of the mirror wall.

The Water Gardens

sigiriya water gardens

You’ll see the water gardens at the base of the rock as you enter Sigiriya’s main entry. You may be tempted to take a dip in the first garden, but we advise against it! This garden was constructed in accordance with an ancient gardening design called ‘Charbagh. This Sigiriya water garden is believed to be one of the oldest surviving examples of this type. The second water garden is freer-form and has shallow streams that slither along the path, leading to deep pools at either end.

The Boulder Gardens

The boulder gardens are closer to the rock and were once part of the foundation for monasteries that used to be part Sigiriya before King Kasyapa took over. Many large boulders are scattered along the garden’s perimeter. Winding paths lead you through the ruins. Although they once borne massive columns and walls, it is believed they were used later to crush intruders who attacked the citadel. However, we can still appreciate their tranquility.

The Terraced Gardens

The terraced gardens are a part the hill that leads up to the fortress. These terraces connect the citadel’s staircases with the boulder garden’s pathways. They don’t constitute a ‘garden’ by definition but are a stunning sight, especially with the limestone pathways surrounding them.

You’ll find the Royal Gardens less crowded than the rest of the fortress ruin ruins. If you want to enjoy some peaceful sightseeing, they are definitely worth a visit!



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